My literary week (9), some thoughts about fiction …

It’s been a busy week, what with getting ready for our road trip to Port Macquarie, and then doing said road trip, so reading has been slowed down somewhat. However, that doesn’t mean that things literary have been forgotten.

Why write fiction?

Anos Irani, The scribeLike most of you who read this blog, I expect, I’m always looking out for discussions about what literature is all about, particularly from the writers who create this things we read. This week, I listened to a couple of interviews with authors, and loved what they had to say.

I’ll start with Anosh Irani whose latest novel The parcel I reviewed a few days ago. In an interview on Canada’s CBC, he said:

I had to tell the truth. For me that was the most important thing. Tell it in the form of a story but make it as truthful as possible.

Fiction is a beautiful way to get to the higher kind of truth.

There’s a difference between facts and truth. Factual information is what I learned when I did my research but truth can be an emotional truth; it can be a spiritual truth. These are things that you can arrive at through fiction, that’s why I love the novel. […]

The idea for me when I write a novel is to find what is human in the worst kinds of experience. […]

There are questions that the reader will also ask that have no answer and that is the whole point that sometimes there aren’t any answers. […]

I think literature should make us a little uneasy, a little uncomfortable, it should cause a shift in our unconsciousness because only when we are disturbed will we go in search of something [and he then refers to great novels like Rohinton Mistry’s A fine balance, Albert Camus’ The outsider and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as examples. Yes!]

SNAP, I thought, because the previous day I’d heard Richard Fidler interview Richard Flanagan, and Flanagan too had talked about truths and about questions without answers:

Novels are something we go to because they remind us that implicit in each of us is a universe of possibilities, some better, some worse […]

It’s said now that reality has outstripped fiction, and that fiction can’t deal with this new reality, but […]

I genuinely believe in the novel as one of the great spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic traditions and at its best it speaks to fundamental truths about the human condition. It’s not that it has answers but … it asks the necessary questions we need to ask, of ourselves and of our times.

As you will probably guess, I love this idea of novels’ role being to ask us questions without necessarily providing the answers. Irani certainly does it. He presents some complex if not discomforting moral questions, and leaves the reader to think about how to react. His only request, I’d say, is for us to react with humanity, to not be quick to judge (particularly if we haven’t walked in those shoes.) Sometimes, as he says, there are no answers.

MUBA (Most Under-rated Book Award)

The Invisible War book coverWhile on the road, I did check my Twitter feed every now and then, and one that caught my attention came from the Small Press Network (SPN). It announced this year’s MUBA award shortlist. I have written about these awards before, and have read the odd nominee, but this list comes completely out of left-field for me. The books are:

  • Briohny Doyle’s The island will sink (Brow Books, an imprint of Lifted Brow magazine): a debut novel that sounds like it’s in the dystopian cli-fi tradition
  • The invisible war: A tale on two scales (Scale Free Network): a surprising-sounding graphic novel for young adults set in the first World War and about bacteriophage that fights dysentery! This book has won educational publishing awards, but I guess is unknown/underrated in the general realm.
  • Susan McCreery’s Loopholes (Spineless Wonders, whom I’ve mentioned before in a post on Specialist Presses): a collection of micro-fiction about family life and relationship – no piece is more than 250 words
  • Christina Kennedy’s Horse Island (Zabriskie Books): set around Tuross Lake in NSW’s south coast, a beautiful part of the world only about three hours drive from me. This book chronicles Kennedy’s commitment to native Australian plants.

What a fascinating bunch. The winner will be announced next month.

How we read …

Another thing readers like me like to read about is how other readers read. I don’t mean what they read, or how many books they read, but how they actually read. This can include things like whether they write marginalia or not, or how many pages they read before they give up on a book, or whether in fact they ever give up a book once started. Consequently, I loved this from a Canadian blogger I love to visit, Buried in Print. It’s from her review of a book by Sarah Dunn called The arrangement, and she writes:

And when I say ‘entertaining’, I mean I chuckled aloud several times and paused more than once to let the book settle into my lap so I could enjoy the idea of the scene described.

I related to this. I often do the same. Not just for funny scenes, but for moving ones, or gorgeously written ones that I want to let soak in. It slows down the reading of course – but, when you are moved (to laugh, cry or wonder), you are moved, and you don’t want to rush that, do you?

17 thoughts on “My literary week (9), some thoughts about fiction …

  1. I’m very much a reader who likes to ‘experience’ my reading. Sticky notes to mark passages I want to revisit, lingering and re-reading parts, pausing so I can contemplate…or laugh or cry! I can definitely relate.

  2. I’m opposite to Theresa, I like to immerse myself in a book and it annoys me to have to pause and make notes (for reviews).

    I don’t always finish books, particularly audio books which I am quite indiscriminate about selecting. My most recent experience was a Geraldine Brooks about Islamic women wearing veils. Early on an educated Egyptian woman friend commences wearing a hijab, she apparently explains her reasons to Brooks, but all that Brooks writes is that her former friend began sprouting dogma. At which point I removed the cd from the player.

    • Thanks Bill, we are all different in our reading styles aren’t we. Was that book Nine parts of desire? That was written so long ago, in a different bond. Not that I’m justifying what you found. I did learn quite a bit from it, though. My memory was that it didn’t mention Muslim women in SE Asia. I realise that she was living in the Middle East, but somehow I’d have liked some recognition that there were big populations elsewhere, where practices were somewhat different. A bit naughty of me as I don’t approve of criticising a book for not being something else!

  3. I love the line “Fiction is a beautiful way to get to the higher kind of truth”.
    I too love to immerse myself in a book and not stop, but I don’t often get the chance for unlimited reading time. Lately, probably because of ageing memory, sometimes I stop to write down the characters’ names and who they are, so I can refer back. (And perhaps it’s the teacher in me.) I also keep a list of titles I’ve read and a one-line comment. Again, I sometimes forget titles/authors or what a book was about.

    • I’m like you Anna, that is, in not getting much opportunity for unlimited reading time. I thought retirement would bring more time, but it hasn’t really. As for immersing oneself in a book, I suspect those of us who do stop, do it because we are immersed and want to wallow for a little while !

  4. I do like to have a good laugh when I read, but I don’t read comedy. I like how personal reading is, and often I connect with the author. I often write down page numbers to refer to after I have read a book. I dislike writing notes as I read, Yet, if I am reading a non fiction book for a book club I do write notes as I read. It slows down the reading which annoys me.. I have bought the Richard Flanagan book and the new one by Jane Harper. The TBR is forever growing!

  5. Sue, thank you for this post. When I was in the thick of my General Anxiety Disorder, not knowing an answer drove me insane. Now that I am in a better place, not knowing an answer looks like a cloud. And it is still beautiful. 🙂

    When I was reading ‘Dog Boy’, I realised the fascination in me to learn a couple of sentences by heart. I kept reading them several times and tried repeating without looking at the book. I lost myself in the exercise only because the writing was magical. That is also a facet in myself which I never knew as a reader. Thank you for this opportunity to meditate on my reading habit, Sue. 🙂

    • And thanks Deepika for your lovely personal reflection. Your comment about how you felt when you suffered from anxiety makes sense, and has taught me something.

      And I love that you slowed your reading of Dog Boy to try to memorise some lines. I hope Hornung hears about this! That must surely be the ultimate compliment for an author.

      • Its heaven to be immersed in a wonderful novel but I tend to gobble and rarely make notes or do any annotating (that tends to be a pleasure exercised on books I don’t like!). I do think that excellent fiction is usually closer to a psychological truth rarely seen in other prose forms.

        • It is heaven, I agree, Ian. What a great way of describing it. Love that you save note-taking for the books you don’t like! Psychological truth, yes, I think that’s one of the main truths fiction does so well. I was interested in Irani’s idea of “higher truth” and wondered how we might define “higher” truths.

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